I’ve been spending increased time over the last few years re-engaging with my alma mater Bentley University, talking about its unique differentiators and the future of higher education. These discussions have reminded me of some of the most foundational college classes for business that I took there, which have shaped my career.
For a school with accounting roots, Bentley has evolved into a 360-degree undergraduate curriculum for all who aspire to be successful in business. I majored in marketing with a minor in management — with a fair share of partying and football, which taught me a lot too! But it was the general college classes for business that proved most valuable to me, because they focused on the softer skills I now leverage every single day.
Sure, I learned a ton in my accounting, economics and finance courses, which were the more technical and rigid courses of the experience. But it was the functional and market-specific courses, such as high-tech marketing, market research and marketing management — I met my wife Katie in this class — plus the case study courses like GB 301 taught by industry professors, that really were center lane for my career ambition and future track. The courses about skill sets that anyone in business must master are the ones I’m most grateful for. Thank you, Bentley!
I sometimes wonder how non-business degree folks even get through the current day without this type of education or practice. Maybe it’s why so many professionals feel the need for the advanced degree MBA, which I never felt would add much value to me given my amazing undergraduate-focused experience. It also could be why so many careers get stuck in a rut or plateau. Sure, you can read a book or watch a YouTube video on these topics to try and improve and be the most prepared person in the room, but a full semester of study is immersive and unmatched learning.
Maybe there is another post to write someday on why I didn’t get an MBA (I don’t want to derail this post), but instead let me elaborate on some of the most valued college courses for business, their teachings, and why they are still the most relevant to me today.
Is there a more important core skill in business than communication? The relationships we build in our careers are the one thing that travels with us from job to job or company to company.
Your ability to engage, relate, listen and learn, articulate your thoughts clearly, show empathy and build trust is paramount. This course primarily forced the tough situations and conversations we all inevitably face in the business world and prepared us to think on the fly. I leverage what I learned here every single day.
I’m consistently asked to get in front of an audience. Sometimes it’s one person. Sometimes it’s on a podcast interview. At Dyn and then Oracle, my teams alone were 500 people worldwide, so it has become a regular occurrence to be in front of a big room.
This college class taught me a great deal about storytelling, cadence, facial and hand gestures, body language, delivery and eye contact. Presence and dynamism can’t be taught but can be worked on and honed. This class forced the students out of their comfort zone, regardless of topic, and challenged us all to embrace the moment on stage.
With a career in strategy, sales, marketing, product, customer relations and business/corporate development, I feel like all I do is negotiate and make deals.
There are always at least two parties at the negotiating table, and learning how to read your adversary, understand signaling and tells, surpass hurdles, derive shared value and drive outcomes were the biggest takeaways from this course. As the opportunities in my career get bigger and more complex, I turn to role-play in this class constantly with more on the line.
Any curriculum you would add to the list? The best educational value for me is when I can take coursework and turn it into real-life case studies via practical use. What college classes for business did you take along the journey that helped get you where you are today? What courses do you wish you took?
An earlier version of this post was published on my personal Medium blog in February 2016.